Tribute to Nigel Buesst
(on the occasion of his 80th birthday)

by various writers

On the occasion of his 80th birthday on April 30, 2018, we pay tribute to Melbourne film persona Nigel Buesst.
Buesst has been active on the Melbourne scene since the early 1960s, as filmmaker, teacher, festival director.
You can read a profile of him here.

Portrait of Nigel Buesst by Ivan Gaal. © Ivan Gaal

Contributions from

James Clayden   Adrian Danks   John Flaus

Ivan Gaal   Geoffrey Gardner   Tina Kaufman

David King   Chris Knowles   Rosemary Mangiamele

Adrian Martin   Bill Mousoulis   Angelo Salamanca

from James Clayden:

Nigel is the sort of person that has made a huge contribution, not only in his own teachings and filmmaking but in general, to what exists of white Australian culture.

James Clayden as he appears in
Buesst's Carlton + Godard = Cinema (2003)

His qualities to me are his:

Everyday ordinariness
Always mysterious
Financially shrewd
Generous to a fault
In his own artistic denials & doubts
Argumentative for the sake of it
Free thinker
Beautiful dry sense of humour
Fearlessly Independent

from Adrian Danks:

Melbourne + Cinema = Nigel


It feels like Nigel’s always been there, plugging away in a undemonstrative, piecemeal and unfussy fashion on under-funded passion projects covering subjects such as Squizzy Taylor, early Australian jazz, the Loved Ones’ Gerry Humphrys and the Carlton filmmaking scene of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Nigel is a quintessentially Melbourne filmmaker and one of its key and emblematic screen culture personalities (even if he would be the first to deflate such lofty sentiments). It is virtually impossible to disentangle Nigel’s work from the rhythms and byways of the city and suburbs it routinely but revealingly documents. This is true from the opening moments of his first film, the pop inspired Fun Radio from 1963 (my own first encounter with Nigel’s work), to Carlton + Godard = Cinema (2003) and Gerry Humphrys – The Loved One (2000; where Nigel looks symptomatically out of place while looking for Gerry in London). In essence, Nigel’s work provides a counter-history of Australian cinema from the 1960s until the early 2000s, and I hope the occasion of his 80th birthday can provide the opportunity for its much-warranted and needed reappraisal.

Nigel’s work and sensibility have been a profound if previously unremarked influence on my own approach to Australian cinema and its fascination with the peculiar byways, modes of practice and sensibilities that define the low-key filmmaking of directors such as Giorgio Mangiamele, Bert Deling, John Ruane and Nigel himself, and that best reflect the character of Melbourne. Like myself, Nigel emerged from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Commerce (his in the early 1960s; mine in the late 1980s). Neither of us has seemed to have much use for this qualification at any time since. His key works of the 1970s such as Bonjour Balwyn (1971) and Come Out Fighting (1973) were essential touchstones for me in gaining an appreciation of a particular down-at-heel, quotidian and even eccentric Australian cinema. The approach of these films, particularly Bonjour Balwyn, which screened several times at the Melbourne Cinémathèque when I first attended in the mid-1980s, seemed much closer to my “deflated” experience of Australian urban and suburban culture than that found in many of the other films I was exposed to at the time.

Although I was sometimes a bit frustrated by Nigel’s seeming lack of care in relation to some aspects of his later filmmaking – understandably not waiting for funding to get started on a project or for a pristine archive copy in his later “compilation” films – I also appreciated the necessary low-fi qualities of his handmade films, and his insistence on the daily practice of personally putting a film together and guiding its circumspect passage into the world (and I’ve been honoured to organise screenings of Nigel’s work on several occasions). But then again, the subterranean, marginal and one-off screenings that mark the distribution and exhibition of works like the heartfelt, playfully willful and appropriately leisurely, even ramshackle, Carlton + Godard = Cinema, are a wonderful synecdoche for the carelessly maverick qualities that best define Nigel.

from John Flaus:

poster for Come Out Fighting (1973)

As a mean-streets blue-collar film buff all my early adult life in Sydney, I really was experiencing a strange new world when I ventured south of the Murray and moved to Melbourne at the beginning of 1972. What I knew about the place – apart from tall tales by visiting Melbournites – principally came from sports reporting in various media. Artistically speaking, Sydney buffs were largely impressed by the “underground” films coming out of this town where they played a weird code of football.

We used to read the film credits, so I recognised the name “Nigel Buesst” on films I admired like Bonjour Balwyn and The Rise and Fall of Squizzy Taylor. Soon after I arrived I was bowled over by his latest film Come Out Fighting. When I finally met the bloke, I was surprised that the creator of these gripping in-yer-face films was hardly a “bloke” at all, being so mild mannered and gently spoken. As I saw him, Nigel’s strength was in his work, not his demeanour.

Why did this city not recognise the value and the relevance of his work? Well, someone may point to the fact that Come Out Fighting did get a commercial release in Melbourne CBD, but it was stuffed into the slot before interval, supporting a Clint Eastwood starring vehicle. The exhibitor’s advertising barely acknowledged that there was a support film. Worse – and this is a long-time grievance of mine – when I went looking and listening for local reviews of this important work, I could find no evidence that the city’s professional media (you know what I mean: reviewers who like to be called “critics”) had taken any notice of it.

Nigel continued making films for decades after that, and I got to know him well enough to call him “friend”.

I already know what it’s like to be 80; I’m an OBE, but Nigel will have to wait another year before he can claim to be over bloody 80.

Happy birthday, mate (that’s blue-collar code for "friend”),

John Flaus (referred to in some quarters as Old Crusty from Castlemaine)

from Ivan Gaal:

Ivan and Nigel celebrate their 80ths together

Nigel Buesst, a passionate independent filmmaker who never compromised and never “sold” out ...

Always helped me and other filmmakers.

It was part of his generous nature.

We can all be proud of knowing him and be in his circle of fiends.

His films will always be hallmarks of Australian independent filmmaking.

Editor's note (Bill Mousoulis): Ivan himself has also celebrated his own 80th birthday this year, on March 23.

On March 16 a group of indie filmmakers and others celebrated Ivan and Nigel's birthdays at a special dinner.

You can view a profile of Ivan here.

from Geoffrey Gardner:

The Night I Slept With Nigel Buesst

When Brian Davies announced, in 1969, that he was going to make another film, a couple of years after his Pudding Thieves and the short Watt’s Last Voyage (the latter being the first film to star Graeme Blundell), his team of enthusiasts rallied round. Some even put up some money for the budget, the film eventually costing about $1100.

Brian Davies

Davies had written a script, just a few pages of notes really and had asked John Duigan to play the lead of a young man who froze when alone with women but happily declared his love when he was in front of a public. Duigan later (much later) told me he thought the idea was ‘a bit thin’ but everyone always rallied round the great man and off we all went. Nobody quite knew what and where things were going to be done.

For that reason, at least in part, it was hard to pin a cameraman down when needed. Doug Hobbs did quite a bit of it, Dan Burstall did the last few shots and in between there was a sequence to be shot in Ballarat. Various locations would be used. Lake Wendouree, the Ballarat Railway Station and at a Jazz Festival that was taking place in a local pub. All this stuff was done over two days and filmed by Nigel Buesst. The last shot was done at dusk and suffice to say I was not popular when I had to run out of camera range for the last shot of the day and I pulled up short.

Then we had to get back to Melbourne and I piled into Nigel’s vehicle. Just outside Bacchus Marsh Nigel started hearing something in the motor – a whirring sound which we didn’t know meant that the fuel pump was on its last legs. He was right. We literally coasted into Bacchus Marsh and rolled to a stop outside a garage. It was near midnight and the whole place was deserted …. and very dark.

I don’t know who piled into the back seat but, whatever, we just nodded off, waking round dawn and then waiting … and waiting until the garage mechanic arrived and an hour or so later had us back on the road. However, not before the bloke threatened to rip the part back out when it came time to pay and we then said all we had was a cheque. “Never take ‘em”. “Come on, mate, have a heart. It wont bounce.” It didn’t.

We limped back to Melbourne mid-morning.

Brake Fluid, with its wonderful opening sequence of Peter Carmody telling stories and the cut to Nick Polites band playing in Ballarat, went on to win the Benson & Hedges prize at the Sydney Film Festival in 1970. But the story that followed was, and remains, ‘a bit thin’. Nigel’s observation of Duigan’s work as an actor no doubt lead to him being cast as the lead in Nigel’s Bonjour Balwyn and the two films no doubt contributed to Duigan, who had already had a novel published, deciding that he too should make movies.

from Tina Kaufman:


As editor of Filmnews in the '80s and early '90s, I kept in contact with a number of people around the country to learn what was going on in their various locations, to maintain Filmnews' role as a national newspaper.

Nigel Buesst was invaluable to me, not only for his own work with the St Kilda Film Festival, but because he always seemed to know what was happening across Melbourne.

And he always had an extra bit of Melbourne gossip or information to pass on for the Who's Doing What page, either something interesting someone was doing, a new film that was being made, or an offbeat screening or event that was happening.

I always enjoyed our chats, and he was a mine of really relevant stuff.

However, our conversations often had a slightly sharp edge Nigel had a very acerbic tongue.

I commented about this once, and he said, "but I'm not biased, Tina, I've got chips on both shoulders."

I loved that!

And I really like his films!

from David King:

I didn't really know Nigel Buesst when I was a member of the Melbourne Filmmakers' Co-op in 1974/5.

He was a director on the board and a very experienced filmmaker. I was a lowly young nobody hoping to figure out how to make films by reading books, watching movies and through trial and error with as many errors as trials.

Ivan Gaal, John Flaus, David King and Nigel Buesst
at the 80th dinner for Ivan and Nigel

I saw him at the general meetings. I saw him stand up and say stuff in a very passionate way. I admired him. But I didn't know him.

I didn't really meet him until I was seated across a table from him at a Melbourne Indepenent Filmmakers dinner about three or four years ago.

With the trademark twinkle in his eye, he said: “I remember you from the Co-op.”

I was astonished.

That he a director up there with the gods would remember a nobody like me from those days.

It says something about the character of the man. Maybe he just said that. Maybe he didn't really remember me at all but had read my MIF page, realised I was a member of the Co-op and out of a sense of solidarity, said: “I remember you.” After all, there are only a few of us left.

I thank him for that. There is now a photo of Ivan Gaal, John Flaus, myself and Nigel Buesst all together and on that occasion, Nigel saw fit to throw his arm around my shoulder.

I can't begin to tell you how honoured I felt when that arm descended on my shoulder and stayed there.

A man I worshipped from afar in the '70s was now a friend.

from Chris Knowles:


Dear Nigel

I am grateful for the opportunity to write a few words to you on this grand occasion.

I have always respected you as a towering pillar of anarchic subversion that rather than casting a long shadow, has projected a bright 24fps light that pierced right through our cultural cringe and illuminated my muddled mind.

You have helped light my way and I thank you sincerely.

Chris Knowles

from Rosemary Mangiamele:

Nigel Buesst in 1975

Since 1938, 8 decades have passed,
We can now look back on Nigel’s achievements so vast.
His skills and passion in the film world have been evident,
In teaching, film making, festivals, admin, the time went.


They say that age is just a number …
But some numbers are more significant than others … and so are people.
Nigel, you have now reached eighty, and we are grateful for your significant contribution to the world of film making in Australia.

Wishing you a very happy 80th birthday.

Thank you, Nigel.

from Adrian Martin:

Always There

Fun Radio (1963)

Nigel Buesst was always there, as I made my way through the Melbourne independent film scene. There on the panel during my interview to get into Swinburne Film School in 1976 (I failed). There at one of the first Screen Studies conferences I attended in the early 1980s – where me marched up to me, shot out his hand, and exclaimed: “I want to shake the hand of the only film critic in this country who hasn’t got his head up his arse!” (I passed). There in the first film classes I attended as a student at Melbourne State College, when Arthur Cantrill screened the infectious audiovisual collage Fun Radio (1963). There at the Melbourne Film Festival, year after year – coming out of a screening of an extremely dark (in all senses) White Hunter, Black Heart in 1989, he turned to me and wryly remarked: “I guess Clint forgot to bring the movie lights?” There in the 1990s, in his post production studio not far from where I lived in Fitzroy, hiring out equipment and facilities, giving out free advice, retelling old stories and gossip, generally being of invaluable assistance to go-it-alone, ultra-low-budget filmmakers. There up the front at a Cinema Nova screening of Carlton + Godard = Cinema in 2003, having a lively dialogue with participants of the Melbourne film world old and new, progressive and conservative. And there in his films which record so many fluxes and flows of culture since the 1960s: music, humour, sex, politics, work, creativity. Happy 80th Birthday to you, Nigel, the Man Who Has Always Been There!

from Bill Mousoulis:

I became aware of Nigel Buesst in the mid-to-late 1980s, mainly due to his role as director of the St.Kilda Film Festival, and I was pleased to have three consecutive 16mm short films selected for the festival over three consecutive years, in 1988, 1989 and 1990. I found Nigel a very supportive festival director. He had a true sense of indie cinema, and his festivals were just perfect, a complete compendium of great indie work of the time, in a time that was indeed more artistic and less showy than now. (He even programmed a Super-8 session in the huge National Theatre in St.Kilda, the projector having to be plonked half-way in the cinema, with people tripping over the leads.)

Bill Mousoulis with Nigel Buesst
at the St.Kilda Film Festival in 1990.

And there was his editing suite in Fitzroy, which I hired for the editing of my 16mm short Between Us in 1989. His suite was like a hub of indie filmmaking at times. I remember Leo Berkeley dropping in one day to check one of my actors out in my film, for a film he was casting. And then, shooting forward to 1999, it was Nigel who introduced me to digital editing, I only had an old, slow computer at home. I had shot my feature Desire in 1998 on 16mm, but I needed to edit digitally, and he began the process for me, and then I took over. As he and Diane would have their dinner (the editing suite had now been relocated to their home in Nth. Carlton), I would happily edit away, laughing out loud at my edits, as if I were at home on my own.

Nigel was like "Mr. Indie Film" to me, and many others. In the late '80s he would produce this great book, the "Melbourne Filmmakers' Resource Book", designed especially for indie filmmakers, with pages and pages of information, on film, processing, equipment hire, etc. I remember one day in 1990 I was sitting at home in Richmond and he turned up unexpectedly at the door, brandishing the new edition of the book (he would update it every year), saying "Here you go" to me, before choofing off to Philip Tyndall's place, which was just a few houses down the street. It was a great time.

Reading some of the entries in this Tribute, I now realise how immense he also was in his first flush of activity, in his 20s and 30s. I only knew him from his late 40s. He made his first film, Fun Radio, the year I was born, in 1963. I actually haven't seen half his films. Especially the 50-minute ones from the early '70s like Dead Easy and Bonjour Balwyn. He's an underrated director I believe. But as an indie film advocate, he's definitely a treasure of this country.

from Angelo Salamanca:


I was introduced to both Nigel and his work in 1990 through his low-budget feature Compo. I enjoyed viewing the film very much and was reminded of Ken Loach’s quiet, understated, “an everyman as protagonist”, body of work.

When discussing this notion with Nigel some time later at a function, he was delighted with the comparison but felt that I was overestimating his talents.

Nigel’s humility is emblematic of his film making and I hope that he has the opportunity to continue making films which speak in a “quiet voice” but which are Stentorian in their commentary regarding what it means to be “ordinary”.

Published April 28, 2018. © James Clayden, Adrian Danks, John Flaus, Ivan Gaal, Geoffrey Gardner, Tina Kaufman, David King, Chris Knowles, Rosemary Mangiamele, Adrian Martin, Bill Mousoulis, and Angelo Salamanca 2018.